Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures we are brought to focus our attention to the commandments and Law of God. The Lord has given us His laws and commandments, revealing to us and teaching us how we ought to live our lives in this world so that we may walk faithfully in His path and be righteous as we should have as Christians, God’s faithful ones.

From the Book of Deuteronomy, we are all reminded that the Law of God must be an important part of life which we obey, follow and practice in all aspects of our lives so that by our actions we may indeed prove that we truly belong to God and God really is the centre and focus of our lives and existence. And we are also reminded that obeying the Law and following the commandments of God must be centred on one very fundamental aspect, that is love. Without love, one cannot claim to be obedient to the Law of God.

It is the same sentiment and idea that our Gospel passage has shown us, as in that passage we heard the Lord Jesus Himself teaching His disciples and the people on the importance of love, and in fact not just any kind of love, but love that is pure, selfless, unbiased and non-judgmental or prejudiced, love that does not discriminate against anyone but one that is established and anchored on the wonderful love of God. This is what the Lord wants us to know and implement in our own lives.

In that Gospel passage the Lord said how as Christians all of us are challenged not just to love those who have already loved us, but also to love even those who have not loved us, those who hated us, those who persecuted us and are prejudiced and biased against us. He asked us all to show love even to all these people who have not been kind to us and who will likely not respond to our love in kind. That is what true love is all about, the love that expects no returns and love that is genuine and not because of desire for returns and reciprocity.

The reality is that many of us treat love as something that we expect things in return, even to the point of being transactional in nature. We often love because we feel happy because of it and we seek to gain satisfaction, joy and pleasure out of that love. The moment that challenges, trials and disagreements begin to appear, then our love fades and turns into bickering and even hatred. This was also why so many marriages ended in failure, relationships ended up being broken and divorces and broken families soared, all because of our selfish love.

Now, all of us are called to embrace God’s love, which is selfless and giving rather than selfish and receiving or expecting. And the Lord Himself had shown us this love by His own example, as He laid hung on the Cross, selflessly bearing for our sake all of our sins and their punishments, to suffer instead of us so that by His loving sacrifice, He may deliver us all from our sins and therefore bring us into salvation and eternal life.

It is what He meant when He said that God loves us all, and show His love even to those who are wicked and evil, by giving them His blessings and wonders even though those people have sinned against Him. Let us all not forget that the Lord Jesus Himself forgave all of His enemies and all those who persecuted Him and condemned Him to die on the Cross, praying that they were not to be held accountable for what they had done to Him on that day.

That is what we are all called to do, brothers and sisters in Christ, to show our pure, selfless and genuine love to one another, even to those who have made our lives difficult or even those who hated us and were prejudiced against us. Indeed, this is easier said that done, and it is important that we realise how we will definitely encounter challenges and difficulties, as well as temptations to hate and to be selfish, but as Christians, are we able to strive to be more loving as Our Lord Himself had done?

Today we also celebrate the feast of two famous saints and martyrs of the Church, two holy women, St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. St. Perpetua was a Roman young woman who became a Christian, but faced opposition from his own father who wanted her to recant her faith. Despite her persecution and being put in prison, St. Perpetua remained faithful to God and refused to recant her faith. In prison, St. Perpetua encountered a slave woman, a Christian named St. Felicity. St. Felicity gave birth to a daughter just before her martyrdom with St. Perpetua and some other Christians.

In the end, both St. Perpetua and St. Felicity remained faithful to the very end, and together with several other Christians, were thrown into the Colosseum and died in martyrdom against the terrible beasts used in the gladiatorial fights by the Romans. And we can see how both St. Perpetua and St. Felicity were filled with God’s love, love that is both selfless and giving, for they did not expect anything in return for their love towards God. Had they expected things in return for their faith, they would have abandoned their faith easily in the face of trials, persecutions and certain death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, inspired by the good faith and loving examples of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, and even more so, Our Lord Himself Who died for us on the Cross, let us all devote ourselves anew to God from now on, and make use of the wonderful opportunities and time given to us, especially in this season of Lent, to learn to love more selflessly and to be more faithful to God, to draw ever closer to Him and to be more righteous in His presence. May God bless us all. Amen.

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 43-48

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples and to the people, “You have heard that it was said : Love your neighbour and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you : love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For He makes His sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and He gives rain to both the just and the unjust.”

“If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect.”

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 118 : 1-2, 4-5, 7-8

Blessed are they whose ways are upright, who follow the Law of the Lord. Blessed are they who treasure His word and seek Him with all their heart.

You have laid down precepts to be obeyed. O, that my ways were steadfast in observing Your statutes!

I will praise You with an upright spirit when I learn Your just precepts by heart. I mean to observe Your commandments. O, never abandon me.

Saturday, 7 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Deuteronomy 26 : 16-19

On this day, YHVH, your God, commands you to fulfil these norms and these commandments. Obey them now and put them into practice with all your heart and with all your soul.

Today YHVH has declared to you that He will be your God, and so you shall follow His ways, observing His norms, His commandments and His laws, and listening to His voice. Today YHVH has declared that you will be His very own people even as He had promised you, and you must obey all His commandments.

He, for His part, will give you honour, renown and glory, and set you high above all the nations He has made, and you will become a nation consecrated to YHVH, your God, as He has declared.

Friday, 6 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, through our Scripture passages today as we continue to progress through this season of Lent, we are all reminded that we cannot be complacent in life and in our way of living our faith, as we can easily slip and fall into the many temptations and trials found in life all around us, and be trapped once again in the dangerous trap of sin. The devil knows this very well and he will indeed try his best to tempt us and to drag us deep into sin.

In our first reading today, as we heard of the passage taken from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, we heard God speaking to all of His people through the prophet Ezekiel revealing how He loved each and every one of us, His beloved children and people, and He wanted us all to be reconciled with Him and be saved from certain destruction because of our own sins. He revealed that He did not wish for the destruction of sinners and their damnation, but the reality is such that those who are condemned did so by their own conscious rejection of God’s righteous ways.

In that same passage then, we also heard how our salvation in God is not a done deal or assured for us unlike what some of us have preferred to believe, those who claimed that once we have been saved by faith, we will always be saved no matter what. Instead, God revealed to us all through the prophet Ezekiel that our faith and our salvation by that faith is also dependant on our actions and direction in life.

Those who are righteous, if they fall into sin and wickedness, will be judged by those same sins they committed, and if found wanting, will be condemned because of them. On the other hand, those who are wicked, if they repent from their wickedness and act righteously, they will be saved by those righteousness and faith that they have shown through their change in attitude in life. This is the essence of what we have heard in our that passage from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel today, that God loves us all and despises our sins.

God treasures us, His people though we are sinners, because He ultimately created us out of love and has that strong desire to love all of us and share His love with us. It is our wickedness and sins that made us to be unworthy and corrupted, regardless of whether we have been considered as righteous or wicked previously by others. That is why we are reminded not to be complacent in how we live our faith and our lives, that we have to be always ready and prepared to face the temptations and pressures that will come our way.

The devil and all of his wicked allies, the demons and evil spirits are always ready out there to tempt us, to sway us and to force and coerce us to go down the path of sin and darkness, and no one among us is free or immune to their corrupting influences and efforts. The more righteous we are and the better we have been in living our faith, the busier the devil and all of his wicked allies will in fact be, in trying to subvert us and to turn us into the path of sin.

That is why, we have to be vigilant all the time and strive to be righteous in the eyes of God and men alike. And it is also very important that we must have humility within us, as without humility it is likely that we will be easily overcome by pride and arrogance, hubris and the ego in our hearts and minds. And when we allow pride to overcome us, it is when it will be very easy for the devil to wrest us away from God’s path into the path of sin. After all, when we allow pride to overcome us and control our lives, we will end up focusing on ourselves more and God will be put aside and become secondary to us in importance.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we progress through this blessed season of Lent let us all make good use of the time and opportunity that God has given us so that we may rediscover our faith in the Lord once again, and allow ourselves to centre ourselves once again on Him. This is why this time of Lent is the perfect opportunity for us to reorientate ourselves and to turn away from sin, be more humble before God and admit before Him our sinfulness and wickedness, all our shortcomings and mistakes.

Remember, brothers and sisters in Christ, that God alone can forgive us our sins and heal us from this terrible affliction on our souls. If we allow sin to inhabit our hearts and minds, our beings for any moment longer, and worse still, to indulge on those sins, sooner or later we will fall deeper and deeper into the path of wickedness, and in the end, be judged by those wickedness we have committed. Instead, let us all heed what the Lord Himself had spoken to us in our Gospel passage today, calling on all of us to be righteous in all things and to be truly faithful in all of our ways in life.

Let us all be more loving towards our fellow brethren from now on, and let us devote more of our time and attention to the Lord and follow His Law and commandments daily. Let us show mercy and compassion on those who have wronged us and let us be more loving and compassionate in all of our actions and deeds. May God be with us always, and may He strengthen us all that we may have the courage to carry on living our lives with genuine faith from now on. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Friday, 6 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 5 : 20-26

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you then, if you are not righteous in a much broader way than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to our people in the past : Do not commit murder; anyone who does kill will have to face trial. But now I tell you : whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial.”

“Whoever insults a brother or sister deserves to be brought before the council. Whoever calls a brother or a sister, ‘Fool!’ deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell. So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with him, and then come back and offer your gift to God.”

“Do not forget this : be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.”

Friday, 6 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 129 : 1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8

Out of the depths I cry to You, o Lord, o Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears pay attention to the voice of my supplication.

If You should mark our evil, o Lord, who could stand? But with You is forgiveness.

For that You are revered. I waited for the Lord, my soul waits, and I put my hope in His word. My soul expects the Lord more than watchmen the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with Him is unfailing love and with Him full deliverance. He will deliver Israel from all its sins.

Friday, 6 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Ezekiel 18 : 21-28

If the sinner turns from his sin, observes My decrees and practices what is right and just, he will live, he will not die. None of the sins he committed will be charged against him, he will live as a consequence of his righteous deeds. Do I want the death of the sinner? – word of YHVH. Do I not rather want him to turn from his ways and live?

But if the righteous man turns away from what is good and commits sins as the wicked do, will he live? His righteous deeds will no longer be credited to him, but he will die because of his infidelity and his sins. But you say : YHVH’s way is not just! Why, Israel! Is My position wrong? Is it not rather that yours is wrong?”

“If the righteous man dies after turning from his righteous deeds and sinning, he dies because of his sins. And if the wicked man does what is good and right, after turning from the sins he committed, he will save his life. He will live and not die, because he has opened his eyes and turned from the sins he had committed.”

Thursday, 5 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of God in the Scriptures, our attentions are brought upon the wonderful love of God and His powerful deliverance and providence for us all from our troubles, as the many historical precedents and examples of the past can testify for us. And today our attention is brought to the time of the Queen Esther of the Persian Empire, who was born a Jewish exile in the land of Babylon, and eventually rose by the grace of God to be the great Queen of the Empire.

And on the same occasion, another person, named Haman, a descendant of the Amalekites also rose to great position of power. Haman despised the descendants of Israel as his ancestors had a great enmity against the people of God, and he tried with many plots trying to destroy the entire race of the people of Israel, by manipulating the King into ordering the extermination of the Israelites. As the then law of the Persian Empire was absolute and binding, and Haman had managed to put the extermination order into the law, it seemed to be the end for all the Israelites then living throughout the Persian Empire.

The Israelites needed help, and one of the prominent members of the community, Mordechai, who was also Queen Esther’s relative, came to her saying that it might indeed be because of God’s plan and will that Esther had become the Queen so that through her, God might yet intervene to save His people from certain destruction. And indeed, Esther promised Mordechai and her people that she would do her best in the situation to protect her people.

And this is how we come to the portion in our first reading today as we heard Esther’s prayer to God, asking Him for deliverance for His people Israel, who were about to be annihilated as a nation by their enemies. And Esther prayed this just before she was about to present herself before the King at her own accord, something that was expressly forbidden in the Persian customs, as that was tantamount to disobedience to the King, something which had cost Esther’s predecessor, the former Queen Vashti, her position as Queen and also getting exiled.

But Esther was ready to do anything for the sake of the Lord and for her people, and she asked God for strength, guidance and courage as she was about to face the greatest challenge of her life, risking her very life and position for what she was about to do, to plead for the safety of her people before the King. She asked for the Lord to guide her and to give her the courage to face her enemies and to soften the heart of the King, and through her prayers, the Lord guided her to triumph against Haman and all those plots he had made against Israel.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the story of Queen Esther is linked to what the Lord Jesus spoke to the people with regards to the matter of asking God and to put our trust in Him. How is this so? The Lord made a comparison of God with a loving father, and said that we need only to ask God, and God will, in accordance to His will and love, provide us with what we need. That was exactly what He has blessed Esther with, the courage, guidance and strength to intercede for the Israelites before the ruler of Persia against their enemies.

However, the sad reality is such that many of us do not ask the Lord or put our trust in Him. We did not seek Him for help, and instead we sought refuge and help through many other sources of the world. We trust our own human strength, ability, intellect and resources more than God, and we believe that we can do everything on our own. And this is why many of us fall deeper and deeper into sin, and got further and further away from God, because we have no firm anchor in our lives which God alone can provide us.

And many of us who do believe in God and place our hope on Him think wrongly that we then can impose our will on God, as we demand Him or plead to Him to give us what we wanted to have, or which we desired in our hearts and minds. But this is not right, brothers and sisters in Christ, as God ultimately is supreme and everything in this world will happen according to His will and not our will. Nonetheless, because God loves each and every one of us, He will provide for us and take good care of us, but in His way, and not in the way that we desired it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now as we progress through this season of Lent, let us all strive to be more faithful to God and to put our trust in Him like Queen Esther has shown us. Let us ask the Lord for His guidance and companionship as we journey along through this life, that we may persevere through the challenges and trials that may come our way. Let us also help one another to remain true to our faith, and devote our time and attention to purify our lives and make ourselves truly worthy of God once again.

May the Lord be with us all and may He strengthen us in our resolution to live our lives from now on with ever greater faith and devotion. May God, our loving and compassionate Father in heaven bless us all and all of our good works and endeavours, for His greater glory. Amen.

Thursday, 5 March 2020 : 1st Week of Lent (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 7 : 7-12

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; and the door will be opened to him who knocks.”

“Would any of you give a stone to your son, when he asks for bread? Or give him a snake, when he asks for a fish? As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

“So, do to others whatever you would that others do to you : there you have the Law and the Prophets.”